Television viewing in countries like the UK and the US have declined by 3 to 4% per year on average since 2012. These declines are directly comparable to the declines in print newspaper circulation in the 2000s and if compounded over ten years will result in an overall decline in viewing of 25 to 30%. The average audience of many television news programmes is by now older than the average audience of many print newspapers.
The decline in viewing among younger people is far more pronounced both for television viewing in general and for television news specifically, meaning that the loyalty and habits of older viewers prop up overall viewing figures and risk obscuring the fact that television news is rapidly losing touch with much of the population.
There are no reasons to believe that a generation that has grown up with and enjoys digital, on-demand, social, and mobile video viewing across a range of connected devices will come to prefer live, linear, scheduled programming tied to a single device just because they grow older. This raises wider questions about how sustainable the broad public interest role broadcast news has played in many countries over the last 60 years is.
Television news is still a widely used and important source of news, and will remain so for many older people for years to come, but if television news providers do not react to the decline in traditional television viewing and the rise of online video – in particular on-demand, distributed, and mobile viewing – they risk irrelevance. The full implications of the changes we identify here will not be felt immediately, as current viewers will continue to watch for years to come.
But the challenge needs to be recognised now and acted on if television news providers want to reinvent themselves and find an audience that increasingly prefers digital media to television, and increasingly embraces on-demand, distributed, and mobile video distributed online.
Many different kinds of news organisations, including legacy broadcasters, print legacy media, and a range of digital pure players, are experimenting with different kinds of television-like and online video news to reach audiences, especially younger people. We review some of what they are trying to do below and show how a limited number of new players, most notably video-on-demand providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and platforms like Facebook and YouTube, are currently leading the move towards a video-enabled internet and that, while there are impressive experiments with long-form, in-depth content, shorter clips, and various modes of distribution, no one seems to have found the right recipe for online video news or IPTV news.
None of the platforms and on-demand services that dominate online video focus on news.
The fact that no one has found the right recipe for doing online video news in this rapidly changing environment takes nothing away from the urgency of adapting to it. Television as a platform may well be about to face disruption on a scale comparable to what printed newspapers have experienced over the last decade. Television news providers face this transition with many strengths, including well-known brands, creative talent, and deep archives of quality content, but they also risk being constrained by their legacy organisation and culture.
Television news providers who wish to reach younger audiences, adapt to this changing environment, and remain relevant will therefore need to continue to invest in innovation and experimentation, and can learn much from established insights into organisational traits that enable innovation in digital news.
A Golden Age of Television, but not of Television News
Television entertainment has embraced the rise of digital media, and the best programming seems to thrive in a world where on-demand, socially distributed, and mobile video viewing is more and more important. For younger people, beyond-the-box video accounts for half of all viewing in technologically advanced markets like the UK and the US (Meeker 2015).
Premium drama series like Game of Thrones and House of Cards win critical acclaim and draw global audiences of engaged fans across different platforms and screens. The most popular talent shows, reality programmes, and major sports events continue to be must-see appointment viewing for millions of people of all ages, whether they watch on an old-fashioned television set or stream them via any number of connected devices – smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, personal computers, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, etc. (Lotz 2014).
It is less clear that television news has found its place in an increasingly digital media environment, even as online video – on-demand, mobile, and social video more than the live, linear, scheduled programming associated with traditional television – becomes more and more popular.
Younger people especially seem increasingly indifferent to television news, although they embrace many forms of online video. In the United States, Twitch, the Amazon-owned website for watching online streams of video games, has a prime-time audience that rivals major cable news channels like MSNBC and CNN, and it attracts many more younger viewers.
Television news, meanwhile,reaches a shrinking number of older viewers whose media habits are increasingly different from the population at large, and especially from the media habits of those who have grown up with digital media.
Technological developments and audience preferences have driven a growth in viewing ‘beyond the box’ and a long-term decline in television news viewing. While major television channels are still pulling in large audiences, these audiences are eroding and ageing while a range of new entrants seek to pick up younger audiences who continue to turn away from traditional television news and embrace digital media.
What is clear is that the right recipes are unlikely to be the same recipes that worked for news bulletins or 24-hour news channels and that news organisations need to break with much of the broadcast legacy and continue to experiment with both editorial products and distribution strategies to make online video news work. Television news is changing as traditional formats evolve, with evening news bulletins seeking ways to add value though much of their audience already know the major headlines, and 24-hour news channels seeking ways of balancing their desire to break news in an accelerated cycle with the challenge of getting complicated stories right in real time. But television news is also changing in a wider sense as people increasingly move away from these traditional formats and incorporate new kinds of online video news in their media repertoires.
If television news providers do not adapt to these changes, they risk irrelevance
Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism